Skinny-Dipping in Cyprus

“Try this.”

It’s a statement we hear often on this around-the-world adventure, and it usually winds up being delicious. But what was in front of us at the moment looked like a ball of dark brown bark covered in some sort of jelly.

We’d just met our Cypriot host, Mario, a couple of hours earlier that evening, and we could already say for certain that he was mischievous. The world’s biggest Elvis Presley fan, Mario was over the moon to learn that his American guests were from Elvis’s home state of Tennessee.

“Try it,” he urged once more. “You’ll never guess what it is, but you’ll love it.”

It turned out to be glyko karydaki, a traditional Cypriot sweet of fresh walnuts preserved in syrup. And it was divine.

As soon as we’d arrived at our Airbnb in Cyprus, we became fast friends with Mario, who works as a tour guide. He whisked us off to dinner at Kalymnos, a beachfront restaurant within walking distance of our cottage on Governor’s Beach.

We talked for hours as we dined on fresh fish, fried calamari, and vegetable salads and drank Cypriot wine. As the waves lapped on the beach and the hedgehogs came out under the cover of darkness, Mario told us about his family and his own travels throughout Europe and America, including trips to Graceland, home of the one and only Elvis Presley.

Mario had a long list of favorite spots around Cyprus, and he was a wonderful ambassador for the third-largest island in the Mediterranean. He also gave us good advice for visiting Turkish Cyprus, the northeastern part of the island that declared its independence in a 1974 coup d’etat. “Just drive right to the border and park your car,” he said. “Show them your passport, and you can walk right in.”

So we did. And as soon as we crossed the border, we began seeing the beautiful buildings that once belonged to Greeks and were now the homes and businesses of Turkish citizens. If they weren’t riddled with bullet holes, you might never know that they’d changed hands unwillingly.

Most of the ruins in Cyprus are much older than those in the Turkish zone. The country is the legendary birthplace of Greek goddess Aphrodite, and you’ll find the Sanctuary of Apollo and the House of Dionysus as well as ancient Kourion, where you can see remnants of the Byzantine basilica and Roman amphitheater in a kingdom first settled in 5500 BC. Over the years, Cyprus has been coveted and ruled by the Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, and British, all of whom have left their mark.

After exploring Cyprus during the day, it was nice to return to the beach each night to relax and absorb everything we’d seen. We also contemplated another of Mario’s tips, which was to find a spot to skinny dip in the sea. “You’re not supposed to do it,” he said. “But it’s so freeing!”

And so we did.